Alien: Out of the Shadows – dramatised for audio

A brand new audio drama, Alien: Out of the Shadows – starring Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) in his first role for audio, Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter), Corey Johnson (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Kathryn Drysdale (St Trinian’s) – is available to download from April 26, 2016.

Alien: Out of the Shadow audiobook cover

A new chapter in the Alien franchise, the sci-fi audio drama is directed and produced by the renowned radio director Dirk Maggs (radio series of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), based on the original novel by award-winning author Tim Lebbon.

The story follows Chief Engineer Hooper (Corey Johnson), who finds himself in command of a stricken orbital mining vessel after its captain is killed. Hooper finds himself not only responsible for the lives of his fellow crew, but also for the survivor of the only previous alien encounter, Ripley (Laurel Lefkow).

Hooper’s ship, a large mining freighter, is in orbit over a planet whilst servicing a mine on its surface below. Suddenly, two of its drop ships appear unexpectedly from the storm-lashed planet, with on-board cameras revealing alien creatures are loose on the vessels, attacking the mining crew on their return to the freighter. The crew must struggle not only against the ferocious predatory aliens but also against Ash (Rutger Hauer), the Artificial Intelligence on board the freighter that will stop at nothing to secure an alien specimen alive.

Rutger Hauer (voicing Ash) says, “Working on such a famous franchise was a challenge, but an amazing one to have. This was also my first introduction to audio work; it was fascinating to focus on just how powerful the voice can be for such a unique, non-human character like Ash. In the art form I work in, creating compelling audio drama is the ultimate illusion.”

Available from April 26, 2016 and available to download at www.audible.co.uk/scream

Cast List

  • Ash – Rutger Hauer
  • Baxter – Matthew Lewis
  • Hooper – Corey Johnson
  • Ripley – Laurel Lefkow
  • Kasyanov – Andrea Deck
  • Lachance – Mac Macdonald
  • Jordan – Barbara Barnes
  • Powell – Abdul Salis
  • Welford – Nathan Osgood
  • Sneddon – Kathryn Drysdale
  • Garcia – Regina Brandolino
  • Vic Jones / Cornell – Tom Alexander

 

Tom Hiddleston reads J. G. Ballard’s High Rise

High Rise audiobook coverYesterday saw the release of the audiobook edition of High Rise, J. G. Ballard’s unnerving tale from 1975 of life in a modern tower block running out of control.

Tom HiddlestonRead by Tom Hiddleston (best known for playing Loki in Thor and The Avengers) the audiobook is set within the concealing walls of an elegant 40-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

We are massive fans of Ballard (who isn’t) and Audible have very kindly supplied us with a 25 second clip to whet your appetite.

Credit: Audible Studios, 2015

For more information on this audiobook, visit Audible UK.

The best selling fantasy audiobooks, August 2014

Magician audiobook cover imageSpecial mention: I’m currently listening to Peter Joyce reading Raymond E. Feist’s classic fantasy novel, Magician. Very highly recommended.

There is no surprise in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones still being number one when you take into account the ongoing popularity of the HBO series and then add to that the fact that Audible are offering a free copy when new members sign up. I have listened to all 5 A Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks and have been very impressed, although Daenerys and the Lannister’s accents have travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles (you just have to roll with it).

Keith C. Blackmore’s free short story, The Hospital has risen to #2, and it is great to see Anthony Ryan’s sublime Blood Song enter the top ten at #3.

A new entry that really caught my eye was The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey – the synopsis sounds fantastic and it’s now on my wish-list.

If you’re always looking for great fantasy audiobooks then this page here: My favourite audio-book narrators, provides a good list of all that is fantastic in audiobook fantasy.

Without any further ado… below are the 10 most downloaded titles from Audible.co.uk.

    1. A Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      A Game of Thrones audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
      Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men… all will play the Game of Thrones. Winter is coming…

    2. The Hospital: The First Mountain Man story
      The Hospital audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Keith C. Blackmore, narrated by R. C. Bray
      "Mountain Man" Augustus Berry is a survivor in undead suburbia. He scavenges what he can from what’s left over. He is very careful in what he does and where he goes, taking no chances, no unnecessary risks, and weighing every choice… until he decides to visit the hospital at the edge of town, and experiences terror the likes he’s never encountered before.

    3. Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow
      Blood Song audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Anthony Ryan, narrated by Steven Brand
      We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners. Vaelin Al Sorna is the Sixth Order’s newest recruit. Under their brutal training regime, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds, and kill a man quickly and quietly – all in the name of protecting the Realm and the Faith. Now his skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

    4. A Game of Thrones (Part Two): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      UNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    5. The Jester
      The Jester audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Michael J. Sullivan, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
      Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A thief, a candle maker, an ex-mercenary, and a pig farmer walk into a trap… and what happens to them is no joke. When Riyria is hired to retrieve a jester’s treasure, Royce and Hadrian must match wits with a dwarf who proves to be anything but a fool. Difficult choices will need to be made, and in the end those who laugh last do so because they are the only ones to survive.

    6. The Book of Life: The All Souls Trilogy, Book 3
      The Book of Life audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Deborah Harkness, read by Jennifer Ikeda
      Historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home in France they reunite with their families – with one heart-breaking exception. But the real threat to their future is yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on a terrifying urgency. Using ancient knowl­edge and modern science, from the palaces of Venice and beyond, Diana and Matthew will finally learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

    7. A Storm of Swords (Part One) – Steel and Snow: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      A Storm of Swords audiobook coverUNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
      The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud, and winter approaches like an angry beast. Beyond the Northern borders, wildlings leave their villages to gather in the ice and stone wasteland of the Frostfangs. From there, the renegade Brother Mance Rayder will lead them South towards the Wall. The men of the Night’s Watch are ready for the coming of a great cold and the walking corpses that travel with it. But now they face a horde of wildlings twenty-thousand strong – hungry savage people steeped in the dark magic of the haunted wilderness – poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. But Robb’s defences are ranged against attack from the South, the land of House Stark’s enemies the Lannisters. His sisters are trapped there, dead or likely yet to die, at the whim of the Lannister boy-king Joffrey or his depraved mother Cersei, regent of the Iron Throne. Cersei’s ambition is unfettered while the dwarf Tyrion Lannister fights for his life, a victim of treachery. And on the other side of the ocean, the last of the Targaryens rears the dragons she hatched from her husband’s funeral pyre. Daenerys Stormborn will return to the land of her birth to avenge the murder of her father, the last Dragon King on the Iron Throne.
    8. The Girl with All the Gifts
      The Girl with All the Gifts audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By M. R. Carey, narrated by Flinty Williams
      Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

       
    9. A Clash of Kings (Part One): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      A Clash of Kings audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
      The Iron Throne once united the Sunset Lands, but King Robert is dead, his widow is a traitor to his memory, and his surviving brothers are set on a path of war amongst themselves. At King’s Landing, the head of Lord Eddard Stark rots on a spike for all to see. His daughter Sansa is betrothed still to his killer’s son Joffrey – Queen Cersei’s son, though not the son of her late husband Robert. Even so, Joffrey is now a boy-king, Cersei is his regent, and war is inevitable. In Dragonstone, Robert’s brother Stannis has declared himself king, while his other brother Renly proclaims himself king at Storm’s End – and Eddard Stark’s fifteen year old son Robb wears the crown of the north at Winterfell. A comet in the night sky, red and malevolent, the colour of blood and flame, can only be an omen of murder and war. Stannis’s child Princess Shireen dreams of dragons waking from stone. And a white raven has brought word from the Citadel itself, foretelling summer’s end. It has been the longest summer in living memory, lasting ten years, and the small folk say it means an even longer winter to come… The first rule of war is never give the enemy his wish. But winter will be the biggest enemy. From beyond the Wall the undead and Others clamour for freedom, and from beyond the sea the long-dead Dragon King’s daughter hatches her revenge. Robb Stark will be exceedingly lucky to reach adulthood.

    10. Ark Royal
      Ark Royal audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Christopher G. Nuttall, narrated by Ralph Lister
      Seventy years ago, the interstellar supercarrier Ark Royal was the pride of the Royal Navy. But now, her weapons are out-dated and her solid-state armour nothing more than a burden on her colossal hull. She floats in permanent orbit near Earth, a dumping ground for the officers and crew the Royal Navy wishes to keep out of the public eye. But when a deadly alien threat appears, the modern starships built by humanity are no match for the powerful alien weapons. Ark Royal and her mismatched crew must go on the offensive, buying time with their lives And yet, with a drunkard for a Captain, an over-ambitious first officer and a crew composed of reservists and the dregs of the service, do they have even the faintest hope of surviving… And returning to an Earth which may no longer be there?

Best selling fantasy audiobooks, June 2014

George R. R. Martin’s stranglehold on the fantasy audiobook top ten downloads is showing signs of lessening with Michael J. Sullivan challenging on two fronts. It’s good to see Jim Butcher and Jasper Fforde making an appearance.

Below are the 10 most downloaded titles from Audible.co.uk during the month of June 2014.

    1. A Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      A Game of Thrones audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
      Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men… all will play the Game of Thrones. Winter is coming…
    2. Hollow World
      Hollow World audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Michael J. Sullivan, narrated by Jonathan Davis
      Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man, about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe, but faced with a terminal illness he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage. If it works, he could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…
    3. Steel World: Undying Mercenaries, Book 1
      Steel World audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By B. V. Larson, narrated by Mark Boyett
      In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed. The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighbouring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy.
    4. Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      UNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    5. Lost in a Good Book
      Lost in a Good Book audiobook coverUNABRIDGED
      By Jasper Fforde, narrated by Gabrielle Kruger
      Thursday Next, literary detective and newlywed, is back to embark on an adventure that begins, quite literally on her own doorstep. It seems that Landen, her husband of four weeks, actually drowned in an accident when he was two years old. Someone, somewhere, sometime, is responsible. The sinister Goliath Corporation wants its operative Jack Schitt out of the poem in which Thursday trapped him, and it will do almost anything to achieve this – but bribing the ChronoGuard? Is that possible?
    6. The Hospital: The First Mountain Man story
      The Hospital audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Keith C. Blackmore, narrated by R. C. Bray
      "Mountain Man" Augustus Berry is a survivor in undead suburbia. He scavenges what he can from what’s left over. He is very careful in what he does and where he goes, taking no chances, no unnecessary risks, and weighing every choice… until he decides to visit the hospital at the edge of town, and experiences terror the likes he’s never encountered before.
    7. The Martian
      The Martian audiobook coverUNABRIDGED
      By Andy Weir, narrated by R. C. Bray
      Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive-and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old ""human error"" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills-and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit-he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
    8. Skin Game: The Dresden Files
      Skin Game audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Jim Butcher, narrated by James Marsters
      Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. As Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. This time, it’s worse than that. Mab’s involved Harry in a smash-and-grab heist run by one of his most despised enemies, to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure horde in the world – which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
    9. The Jester
      The Jester audiobook cover imageUNABRIDGED
      By Michael J. Sullivan, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
      Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A thief, a candlemaker, an ex-mercenary, and a pig farmer walk into a trap… and what happens to them is no joke. When Riyria is hired to retrieve a jester’s treasure, Royce and Hadrian must match wits with a dwarf who proves to be anything but a fool. Difficult choices will need to be made, and in the end those who laugh last do so because they are the only ones to survive.
    10. A Clash of Kings (Part One): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire
      A Clash of Kings audiobook coverUNABRIDGED
      By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
      The Iron Throne once united the Sunset Lands, but King Robert is dead, his widow is a traitor to his memory, and his surviving brothers are set on a path of war amongst themselves. At King’s Landing, the head of Lord Eddard Stark rots on a spike for all to see. His daughter Sansa is betrothed still to his killer’s son Joffrey – Queen Cersei’s son, though not the son of her late husband Robert. Even so, Joffrey is now a boy-king, Cersei is his regent, and war is inevitable. In Dragonstone, Robert’s brother Stannis has declared himself king, while his other brother Renly proclaims himself king at Storm’s End – and Eddard Stark’s fifteen year old son Robb wears the crown of the north at Winterfell. A comet in the night sky, red and malevolent, the colour of blood and flame, can only be an omen of murder and war. Stannis’s child Princess Shireen dreams of dragons waking from stone. And a white raven has brought word from the Citadel itself, foretelling summer’s end. It has been the longest summer in living memory, lasting ten years, and the small folk say it means an even longer winter to come… The first rule of war is never give the enemy his wish. But winter will be the biggest enemy. From beyond the Wall the undead and Others clamour for freedom, and from beyond the sea the long-dead Dragon King’s daughter hatches her revenge. Robb Stark will be exceedingly lucky to reach adulthood.

Audible offering free audiobooks to those taking part in #run2workday

run2work logoAudible.co.uk will be offering a free audiobook download to all those taking part in the #run2workday scheme, launched in partnership with the Evening Standard.

#run2workday is a brand new nationwide initiative, designed to encourage people to don their trainers, avoid the perils of public transport, save money and get fit. Audiobooks and running really are a match made in heaven, and have been proven to help with motivation whilst running. #run2workday kicks off with a London launch on 5th June – for more information, please visit: www.run2work.com/run2work-day.

Here are the top 5 recommended books to run to:

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

The first book of the highly acclaimed epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, where summers span decades and winter can last a lifetime.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A life-changing tale of nine-year old Liesel, separated from her family during WWII in Germany, who starts stealing books from under the noses of the Nazis.

The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry

This dazzling memoir promises to be courageously frank and honest. Let it excite you, make you laugh uproariously, and above all, surprise you.

The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters

A compelling examination of the mind management programme that helps listeners to operate with greater focus and conquer their fears.

Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Very funny, very honest and very emotional, whether you’re in serious training or thinking about running for the bus, this is a book for anyone who after wine and crisps for supper a few too many times thinks they might like to run like a girl.

My favourite audio-book narrators

The Amulet of Samarkand audio-book on my iPod using the Audible app.I had always enjoyed audio-books but until recent years had not really listened to that many, always preferring print over audio. But when life left me with less and less reading time, then took me off the train and put me behind the wheel of a car, I found that I had on average two hours every single day that the car radio and music albums couldn’t satisfactorily fill. And so I turned to audio-books and it has now become a source of entertainment that I simply cannot now live without. The earliest audio-book I can remember listening to was Watership Down by Roy Dotrice (who currently reads George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books) and I found it a wonderful – but abridged – reading (on cassette) of Richard Adams’ classic tale and I have since managed to get hold of it in mp3 format and it will always remain very special to me. I then purchased the BBC radio adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which are both very good, but I had still not yet listened to a full, unabridged reading of a novel. But this was soon remedied and a quick glance at my Audible library shows I now have more than 130 titles and the vast majority of them are excellent. The audio-book that initially converted me fully to the charms of the format was Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, read by the wonderful Simon Prebble. It was a book I liked but was finding it a bit of a struggle to read at a healthy pace as it is as a bit of a daunting read to be honest. But thanks to Prebble’s amazing array of voice talent I was suddenly having this book brought to life and read to me for over two hours a day and I loved every minute of it. I didn’t just listen to it on my commute, I listened to it at lunch, for a sly five minutes here and there during the work day, while I was washing up and last thing at night (of course using the 15 minutes timer so I wouldn’t be lost in the morning). And from this time I have since listened to some of the very best audio-books in the fantasy and fiction genres and this is what this page is all about. I’ve learnt a few important things along the way, like how epic/high fantasy can be problematic in audio-format due to the amount of invented names and places (the Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth and Shannara books being three good examples) and that urban fantasy is often a much better bet. Unabridged is always best, the only exception being The Bartimaeus Trilogy, which was abridged but did not appear to lose anything. So here are the narrators that have impressed me the most over the years. They have of course been gifted wonderful source material by some very talented authors but still, what they have done with it is truly memorable.

I would love for visitors to make more narrator recommendations do please use the comment box at the bottom of this page to do so.

Frank Muller

Frank MullerFrank Muller, who sadly died in 2008, was a classically trained actor whose background included many years on the New York stage at the Riverside Shakespeare Company, the Roundabout Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. His numerous awards include the Audio Publishers Association’s 1996 Consumer’s Choice Audie Award for Best Unabridged Fiction, the 1997 Best Unabridged Fiction Audie Award, and nine AudioFile Magazine Earphones Awards. His finest moment came in 1999 when he was awarded the top achievement in audiobook narration, the AudioFile Lifetime Achievement Award.

I first heard Frank Muller read on the second book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three. I was stunned, he had managed to recreate the voice of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, from within my own mind and he had managed to take Stephen King’s magnum opus and make it even better to listen to than it was to read, which is no mean achievement. King and Muller are perfect together (I believe Muller was always King’s narrator of choice) and their collaborations together are must-listens for all fantasy audio-book lovers.

Recommended audio-books read by Frank Muller:

  • Dark Tower II: Drawing of the Three (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (Stephen King)
  • The Green Mile (Stephen King)
  • The Talisman (Stephen King and Peter Straub)

John Chancer

John ChancerJohn Chancer is an award-winning narrator of many audio books who has a long association with the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. He has also been heard on many radio dramas, documentaries and cartoons in Britain and US.

I don’t know if John Chancer is British or American – and this is as big a complement as I can give. I first came across Chancer when listening to the excellent Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, a classic of the dystopian genre that he reads magnificently. And so I had absolutely no hesitation in then downloading the Haruki Murakami book Norwegian Wood when I saw he was the man doing the reading. Chancer is very fine narrator indeed.

Recommended audio-books read by John Chancer:

  • Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
  • Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – non fantasy but I would still like to recommend

George Guidall

George GuidallGeorge Guidall has recorded over 900 (yes, nine hundred – I’m not sure I’ve read that many books) unabridged novels, bringing a consistent artistry to his readings and delighting listeners for over 20 years. His recordings have garnered uniformly excellent reviews from Audiofile, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and a variety of national newspapers and magazines. Guidall received an Audie Award for best unabridged narration of a novel for his recording of John Irving’s A Widow For One Year, an honor he captured again for his rendition of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True. He holds the record for the most “Earphone” awards (over 70) given by the magazine to any narrator for excellence in narration.

As with Frank Muller, I first encountered George Guidall thanks to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. He reads the first book, The Gunslinger and then returned to complete the series by reading books six and seven. But it was on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that I found him at his very best, bringing the award-winning story to life with brilliant portrayals of the large cast. I would not hesitate to listen to any book read by Guidall.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods within the Audible iPad app.

Recommended audio-books read by George Guidall:

  • Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (Stephen King)
  • Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (Stephen King)
  • American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

Sean Barrett

Sean Barrett As a child Sean Barrett appeared on BBC children’s television and in films such as Bang! You’re Dead, War and Peace, The Genie and Four Sided Triangle. Then, in the early 1980s, Barrett went on to voice acting and subsequently performed many voices including Tik-Tok in Return to Oz, a Goblin in Labyrinth and UrSu the Dying Master and UrZah the Ritual-Guardian in The Dark Crystal.

Rumour also has it that Barrett appears on the cover of a single by The Smiths… I think that Sean Barrett is probably my favourite voice actor/narrator because he creates such a wonderful atmosphere, has such a powerful, yet soothing voice and brings across the humour of any book extremely well. By way of a compliment I will happily admit that I would probably not have finished Paul Hoffman’s Left Hand of God trilogy but for the excellence of his readings. Indeed, I was so impressed by Barrett that I went looking for other works read by him and I was led to Kafka on the Shore, which is now by far my favourite Murakami novel and one that Barrett reads brilliantly. I was also introduced to Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole crime thrillers through Barrett, which he reads with such relish. If you see Sean Barrett’s name alongside a book you like, do not think twice and begin listening immediately.

Recommended audio-books read by Sean Barrett:

  • The Snowman (Jo Nesbo)
  • The Left Hand of God (Paul Hoffman)
  • The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)
  • The Beating of His Wings (Paul Hoffman)
  • Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Roy Dotrice

Roy DotriceRoy Dotrice is an award-winning actor who has earned two places within the Guinness Book of Records. The first being for the greatest number of solo theatre performances (1,782), and the second for having recorded the highest number of character voices by a single actor in the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones, in which he voices a total of 224 characters).

I first encountered Roy Dotrice in the 1980s when my sister received the audiobook edition of Watership Down as a present. Before long ownership had passed to me by virtue of borrowing it and never giving it back. I have listened to Dotrice tell the stirring tale of Hazel, Bigwig, Fiver and company at least once a year for the past three decades. He managed to bring as much life and individuality to the characters that it was like listening to a full cast dramatisation. When I learned that Dotrice would be reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series I was delighted, and the verve and skill with which he delivers these large books is mightily impressive considering he has recently passed his ninetieth birthday. One of my favourite narrators.

Recommended audio-books by Roy Dotrice:

  • Watership Down (Richard Adams)
  • A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Clash of Kings (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Storm of Swords (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Feast of Crows (George R. R. Martin)
  • A Dance With Dragons (George R. R. Martin)

Karen Archer

Karen Archer.To all of her performances, Karen Archer brings a seamless fluidity and humanity combined with precision and attention to detail. These qualities have made her a familiar voice in the many documentaries she has recorded for National Geographic and Discovery Channel. Karen has made numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio, twice being a member of BBC Radio Drama Company. Her work in the theatre includes classics such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and contemporary roles such as Annie Wilkes in an adaptation of Steven King’s novel Misery. Her extensive television work has included Assistant Chief Constable Anne Stewart in the police drama series The Chief and Queen Elizabeth I in David Starkey’s acclaimed historical series, Elizabeth. Karen has read a biography of Queen Elizabeth I for Naxos Audio Books. For Craftsman Audio Books she has recorded the complete Snow-Walker trilogy by Catherine Fisher and A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin.

The Earthsea books are amongst my very favourites. They are beautifully written, imbued with such a sense of calm and thoughtfulness that reading them can instil a feeling not unlike meditation. Karen Archer reads them perfectly, matching precisely Le Guin’s masterful prose. A must listen for all fantasy fans.

Recommended audio-books read by Karen Archer:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)

Simon Vance

simon-vance-portraitSimon Vance caught the acting bug while attending the Brighton School of Music and Drama on Saturday mornings. He was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and started recording funny voices and silly noises. In the 1970’s he began a broadcasting career at BBC Radio Brighton. In the 1980’s he became a newsreader and presenter for BBC Radio 4 where he discovered a knack for narrating audiobooks when working for the Talking Book Service of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In the 1990’s he began doing audiobooks commercially for the first time and has since has received 7 Audie nominations and received 27 Earphone awards.

My first encounter with Simon Vance came when I began listening to  his reading of Tigana, one of my favourite books of all time, which he delivers perfectly, doing the book complete justice. And it is for the reading of Tigana that Simon Vance appears on this page and I look forward to listening to him read the story to me once again in the not to distant future.

Recommended audio-books read by Simon Vance:

  • Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • River of Stars (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  • Weaveworld (Clive Barker)
  • Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel) – non fantasy
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)

Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana within the Audible iPad app.

Tom Stechschulte

Tom Stechshulte.Tom Stechschulte is a prolific audiobook reader, having read, amongst others: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and The Road, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island.

I now associate Tom Stechschulte with the very best dystopian fiction, namely The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Swan Song by Robert McCammon. His reading voice is the very epitome of sonorous, the voice he uses for the Man from The Road and Joshua from Swan Song being absolutely perfect. I could – and will – listen to him narrate The Road every year, it is a perfect book read beautifully.

Recommended audio-books read by Tom Stechschulte:

  • Swan Song (Robert McCammon)
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

Steven Pacey

Steven Pacey.Steven Pacey is a versatile actor and narrator who balances audiobook work with a busy theatre career. He is often recognized for his skill with characters and the scope of his talents in audiobooks for both adults and children. He is brilliant at bringing out the unusual British blend of suspense and humour in audiobooks for older children. His narration of Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris won an Earphones Award.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy is brilliant fantasy but also very, very funny, especially when read by Steven Pacey. His portrayal of the irascible djinni is a joy to listen to and he capture the sardonic wit to perfection. And a sign of his versatility is how comfortably he then turns to something far darker in John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One in, a modern take on the vampire novel set in a bleak Scandinavian setting. His reading of Gentlemen & Players is on my must-listen-to-next list.

Recommended audio-books read by Steven Pacey:

  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud)
  • Let the Right One in (John Lindqvist)

Simon Prebble

Simon Prebble.British born performer Simon Prebble is a stage, film and television actor who has played everything from Soaps to Shakespeare. As a narrator of some 350 audio book titles he has received critical acclaim from both fans and peers. He is one of Audiofile’s ‘Golden Voices’ and Voices of the Century’, and has received over 24 ‘Earphone’ awards, 5 ‘Listen Up’ awards and has been nominated 11 times for the ‘Audies’, the industry’s own ‘Oscars’. In 2005 he was named ‘Narrator of the Year’ by Publisher’s Weekly.

Simon Prebble may well be the individual I have most to thank in regards to my conversion to the love of audiobooks. I was reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and while finding it a very good book I was having difficulty making much progress, often reading little more than 10 pages a night. It was a dense read (in a good way). So I downloaded the audiobook and from that moment on I listened to it at a rate of about 4 hours a day (about 120 pages) and so was finished in less than a week. And what a story it was, and what a feat of narration, to bring a large cast to life using brilliantly sounding, and authentic, voices. I was sorry when the reading finished and have since listened to it twice again. Prebble is also excellent at narrating the Sherlock Holmes stories. His Narrator of the Year award was well deserved.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • The Pickwick Papers (Charles Dickens)

Samuel West

Samuel WestSam West is a British narrator, actor and director. He has recorded over fifty audiobooks, among which are the Shakespeare plays All’s Well That Ends Well, Coriolanus, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II and Macbeth, the Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson, the Arthur trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland, five books by Sebastian Faulks and two by George Orwell.

It was on John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids that I first heard Samuel West narrate and I was very impressed by how he managed to perfectly encapsulate the era in which the book was set. He told that story with such skill and aplomb that when I saw that he has also narrated George Orwell’s 1984, a book I had long wanted to read, I didn’t hesitate to download it straight away. And the book itself, and the reading, are just as magnificent as I hoped they would be. West read dystopia very, very well but judging from the list of the works he has also done he appears to be as comfortable and as skilled across all genres. If there was a book that appealed to me and it was available as an audiobook read by West I would not hesitate for one second to download it immediately.

  • 1984 (George Orwell)
  • The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)

Stephen Fry

Stephen FryStephen Fry is a comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist who needs little introduction, especially here in his native UK where he has achieved national treasure status. To me he is best known for his comedy work with Hugh Laurie, his long-running television series QI and for his roles in the ever-popular Blackadder comedy series.

His is also a narrator of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and boy does he do it justice. Not all actors have a varied array of voices and accents. In fact, in my experience, famous actors do not often make the best narrators due to their lack of vocal diversity but Stephen Fry does not fall into this category. His reading of the seven phenomenally successful novels is perfect, from his Harry, Ron and Hermoine through to his – in my opinion – fond homages to the great British actors from the film adaptations, namely Robbie Coltraine, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, this is a collection of audiobooks to, well, treasure.

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J. K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J. K. Rowling)

And so that brings to an end a list of the best narrators I have so far encountered. The criteria for inclusion is a minimum of two excellent readings and this has naturally led to the exclusion of several other fantastic narrators. So I have listed some other great fantasy audio-books and their readers below:

  • Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy, read by Jonathan Barlow
  • The BBC adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Stephen King’s The Stand, read by Grover Gardner and Under the Dome, read by Raul Esparza
  • Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, read by Jonathan Davis
  • Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, read by Ron Perlman
  • Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, read by Allan Corduner
  • The Graveyard Book, read by the book’s author Neil Gaiman
  • Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, read by the author and full cast
  • J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, read by Martin Shaw
  • Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, read by Sir Ian McKellan
  • Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, read by William Hope and Lauren Lefkow
  • Raymond E. Feist’s Magician, read by Peter Joyce

I am always on the look out for more audio-book recommendations so please let me know what else I should be listening to by leaving a comment below. I hope you have found this list useful.

Top 10 fantasy audio-book downloads (July 2013)

The George R. R. Martin monopoly on the top 10 fantasy fantasy audio-book downloads is still very much in evidence but three titles can be found battling away gamely against the juggernaut. World War Z, no doubt due to a film adaptation just having hit cinemas, has stormed its way to number one and while I enjoyed it in parts I would struggle to actually recommend it to anyone else as too much simply didn’t work for me (just a personal opinion and I’m happy to admit to being in the minority). The other new entry is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which has just been reviewed, and is read by the author himself (this is next on my to-listen list). And a re-entry into the top 10 is another Neil Gaiman book, American Gods, which is fantastically well read by Gaiman himself and one of my all-time favourite narrators, George Guidall (he of Dark Tower fame). Despite a rather slow start American Gods became one of the best audio-books I have listened to in the last 5 years – now this one is highly recommended.

So here is the current top 10, as seen on Audible.co.uk (I’d imagine Audible.com is quite different but still Westeros-themed). I am also busy compiling a list of my favourite audio-books and narrators and I’ll post this in the not too distant future. I’m finding it an interesting list as the best fantasy books do not always make the best audio-books. I have found that high/epic fantasy can be problematic in audio format due to the plethora of made-up names and locations, and I have also found that a good reader can make an average book good, and a bad reader can make a good book average. I hope the list will be useful.

  1. World War Z
    World War Z audio-book.UNABRIDGED
    By Max Brooks, narrated by Chris Ragland, Rupert Farley, Nigel Pilkington, Jennifer Woodward, David Thorpe, Adam Sims, Robert Slade
    The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched firsthand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living – or at least the undead – hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
  2. A Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    A Game of Thrones audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    This first volume in the hugely popular and highly acclaimed epic fantasy series A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is unabridged and split into two parts. Now a major Sky Atlantic TV series from HBO, starring Sean Bean. Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men… all will play the Game of Thrones. Winter is coming…
  3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
    The Ocean at the End of the Lane audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By Neil Gaiman, narrated by author
    The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying, and elegiac – as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly’s wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark – from storytelling genius Neil Gaiman. It’s about memory and magic and survival, about the power of stories and the darkness inside each of us. It began for our narrator 40 years ago, when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and a menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.
  4. A Game of Thrones (Part Two): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
  5. A Clash of Kings (Part One): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    A Clash of Kings audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    The Iron Throne once united the Sunset Lands, but King Robert is dead, his widow is a traitor to his memory, and his surviving brothers are set on a path of war amongst themselves. At King’s Landing, the head of Lord Eddard Stark rots on a spike for all to see. His daughter Sansa is betrothed still to his killer’s son Joffrey – Queen Cersei’s son, though not the son of her late husband Robert. Even so, Joffrey is now a boy-king, Cersei is his regent, and war is inevitable. In Dragonstone, Robert’s brother Stannis has declared himself king, while his other brother Renly proclaims himself king at Storm’s End – and Eddard Stark’s fifteen year old son Robb wears the crown of the north at Winterfell. A comet in the night sky, red and malevolent, the colour of blood and flame, can only be an omen of murder and war. Stannis’s child Princess Shireen dreams of dragons waking from stone. And a white raven has brought word from the Citadel itself, foretelling summer’s end. It has been the longest summer in living memory, lasting ten years, and the small folk say it means an even longer winter to come…The first rule of war is never give the enemy his wish. But winter will be the biggest enemy. From beyond the Wall the undead and Others clamour for freedom, and from beyond the sea the long-dead Dragon King’s daughter hatches her revenge. Robb Stark will be exceedingly lucky to reach adulthood.
  6. A Clash of Kings (Part Two): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
  7. A Storm of Swords (Part Two) – Blood and Gold: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    Blood and Gold audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud, and winter approaches like an angry beast. Beyond the Northern borders, wildlings leave their villages to gather in the ice and stone wasteland of the Frostfangs. From there, the renegade Brother Mance Rayder will lead them South towards the Wall. The men of the Night’s Watch are ready for the coming of a great cold and the walking corpses that travel with it. But now they face a horde of wildlings twenty-thousand strong – hungry savage people steeped in the dark magic of the haunted wilderness – poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. But Robb’s defences are ranged against attack from the South, the land of House Stark’s enemies the Lannisters. His sisters are trapped there, dead or likely yet to die, at the whim of the Lannister boy-king Joffrey or his depraved mother Cersei, regent of the Iron Throne. Cersei’s ambition is unfettered while the dwarf Tyrion Lannister fights for his life, a victim of treachery. And on the other side of the ocean, the last of the Targaryens rears the dragons she hatched from her husband’s funeral pyre. Daenerys Stormborn will return to the land of her birth to avenge the murder of her father, the last Dragon King on the Iron Throne.
  8. A Storm of Swords (Part One) – Steel and Snow: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    Steel and Snow audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud, and winter approaches like an angry beast. Beyond the Northern borders, wildlings leave their villages to gather in the ice and stone wasteland of the Frostfangs. From there, the renegade Brother Mance Rayder will lead them South towards the Wall. The men of the Night’s Watch are ready for the coming of a great cold and the walking corpses that travel with it. But now they face a horde of wildlings twenty-thousand strong – hungry savage people steeped in the dark magic of the haunted wilderness – poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. But Robb’s defences are ranged against attack from the South, the land of House Stark’s enemies the Lannisters. His sisters are trapped there, dead or likely yet to die, at the whim of the Lannister boy-king Joffrey or his depraved mother Cersei, regent of the Iron Throne. Cersei’s ambition is unfettered while the dwarf Tyrion Lannister fights for his life, a victim of treachery. And on the other side of the ocean, the last of the Targaryens rears the dragons she hatched from her husband’s funeral pyre. Daenerys Stormborn will return to the land of her birth to avenge the murder of her father, the last Dragon King on the Iron Throne.
  9. A Feast for Crows (Part One): Book 4 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    A Feast for Crows audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    The War of the Five Kings has ripped Westeros apart. The bloodthirsty, treacherous and cunning Lannisters occupy the Iron Throne, with allies as ruthless as themselves. Lord Frey was host at the Red Wedding, so called for the massacre of the guests, their screams unheard above the music of the feast. Euron Crow’s Eye is as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, sworn to deliver the whole of Westeros to the ironborn.No less to be feared are their enemies. The Starks of Winterfell and the Martells of Dorne seek vengeance for their dead. And the last of the Targaryens, Daenerys Stormborn, will bring fire and blood to King’s Landing when her young dragons reach their terrifying maturity. The last war fought with dragons was a cataclysm powerful enough to shatter the Valyrian peninsula, now a smoking, demon-haunted ruin half drowned by the sea.Against a backdrop of alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel … and the coldest hearts.
  10. American Gods
    American Gods audio book.UNABRIDGED
    By Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Gaiman, George Guidall
    After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday, claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god, and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace…. Disturbing, gripping, and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman’s epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.

Top 10 fantasy audio-book downloads (April 2013)

A Game of Thrones audio-book cover image.I’ve not done a post of this type for a while so I thought today would be a good time to remedy this. The list below is interesting for many reasons, some of which I will mention briefly. First, the positive, and just how encouraging it is to see a successful TV series result in thousands upon thousands going out and getting hold of the book/audio-book upon which it is based. This warms my heart as it reinforces the theories that a) people are not lazy and b) they realise that no matter how good the film/series is the book is going to be even better. I am of course referring to the series Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire books upon which it is based.

But a question: Why is every book split into part 1 and part 2 and sold separately? I struggle to find any other explanation that it has been done to reap as much cash as possible from a series that has become more successful than anyone could have imagined. And this is why I refuse to purchase the audio-books, more on principle than for financial reasons as my yearly Audible membership means I could do so at less than half that cost price. When the third Song of Ice and Fire book (in print form) was released in two parts I became suspicious as the US seemed to sell it as just one volume. And this of course means that book three, if you want to listen to it, has to purchased as four separate audio-books, coming in not far short of £60. That simply is not good value. And I don’t blame Audible for this but Harper Audio, who I hope will be shown that consumers are not as naive as they think they are. I would expect this to result in an increase in illegal downloads for Song of Ice and Fire audiobooks as customers who would usually pay balk at both the price and the greed. By way of comparison, The Stand by Stephen King, which comes in at an astonishing 48 hours, is available singularly for £20. And why has the Hobbit been split into two parts? It’s only just over two hundred pages for f***s sake – shame on you.

Maybe book six, when it comes out, can be sold one page at a time?

Anywhere, mini-rant over and here are the ten most popular downloads from Audible.co.uk over the plat seven days. It is also noticeable that numbers 3, 4 and 5 have been recently adapted for radio and film.

  1. A Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
    Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men… all will play the Game of Thrones. Winter is coming…
  2. A Game of Thrones (Part Two): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
  3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
    Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of: a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining…. And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.
  4. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
    Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. Earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn’t expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves – Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body’s desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she’s never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.
  5. The Hobbit, Part 1 by J. R. R. Tolkien
    Smaug certainly looked fast asleep, when Bilbo peeped once more from the entrance. He was just about to step out onto the floor when he caught a sudden thin ray of red from under the drooping lid of Smaug’s left eye. He was only pretending to be sleep! He was watching the tunnel entrance! Whisked from his comfortable hobbit-hole by Gandalf the wizard and a band of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.
  6. Excession by Iain M. Banks
    Two and a half millennia ago, the artifact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared. Now it is back.
  7. A Clash of Kings (Part One): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
    The Iron Throne once united the Sunset Lands, but King Robert is dead, his widow is a traitor to his memory, and his surviving brothers are set on a path of war amongst themselves. At King’s Landing, the head of Lord Eddard Stark rots on a spike for all to see. His daughter Sansa is betrothed still to his killer’s son Joffrey – Queen Cersei’s son, though not the son of her late husband Robert. Even so, Joffrey is now a boy-king, Cersei is his regent, and war is inevitable. In Dragonstone, Robert’s brother Stannis has declared himself king, while his other brother Renly proclaims himself king at Storm’s End – and Eddard Stark’s fifteen year old son Robb wears the crown of the north at Winterfell. A comet in the night sky, red and malevolent, the colour of blood and flame, can only be an omen of murder and war. Stannis’s child Princess Shireen dreams of dragons waking from stone. And a white raven has brought word from the Citadel itself, foretelling summer’s end. It has been the longest summer in living memory, lasting ten years, and the small folk say it means an even longer winter to come…The first rule of war is never give the enemy his wish. But winter will be the biggest enemy. From beyond the Wall the undead and Others clamour for freedom, and from beyond the sea the long-dead Dragon King’s daughter hatches her revenge. Robb Stark will be exceedingly lucky to reach adulthood.
  8. A Storm of Swords (Part One) – Steel and Snow: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
    The Seven Kingdoms are divided by revolt and blood feud, and winter approaches like an angry beast. Beyond the Northern borders, wildlings leave their villages to gather in the ice and stone wasteland of the Frostfangs. From there, the renegade Brother Mance Rayder will lead them South towards the Wall. The men of the Night’s Watch are ready for the coming of a great cold and the walking corpses that travel with it. But now they face a horde of wildlings twenty-thousand strong – hungry savage people steeped in the dark magic of the haunted wilderness – poised to invade the Kingdom of the North where Robb Stark wears his new-forged crown. But Robb’s defences are ranged against attack from the South, the land of House Stark’s enemies the Lannisters. His sisters are trapped there, dead or likely yet to die, at the whim of the Lannister boy-king Joffrey or his depraved mother Cersei, regent of the Iron Throne. Cersei’s ambition is unfettered while the dwarf Tyrion Lannister fights for his life, a victim of treachery. And on the other side of the ocean, the last of the Targaryens rears the dragons she hatched from her husband’s funeral pyre. Daenerys Stormborn will return to the land of her birth to avenge the murder of her father, the last Dragon King on the Iron Throne.
  9. The Stand by Stephen King
    First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms. For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are listening to The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.
  10. A Dance with Dragons (Part One): Book 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
    The future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance. In the east, Daenerys, last scion of House Targaryen, her dragons grown to terrifying maturity, rules as queen of a city built on dust and death, beset by enemies. Now that her whereabouts are known many are seeking Daenerys and her dragons. Among them the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, who has escaped King’s Landing with a price on his head, wrongfully condemned to death for the murder of his nephew, King Joffrey. But not before killing his hated father, Lord Tywin. To the north lies the great Wall of ice and stone – a structure only as strong as those guarding it. Eddard Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow has been elected the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but he has enemies both in the Watch and beyond the Wall, where the wildling armies are massing for an assault. On all sides bitter conflicts are reigniting, played out by a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves. The tides of destiny will inevitably lead to the greatest dance of all…

A new release that caught my eye, and which I have added to my wish list is Blood of Dragons (The Rain Wild Chronicles #4) by Robin Hobb, narrated by Anne Flosnik. Dragon blood and scales, dragon liver and eyes and teeth. All required ingredients for medicines with near-miraculous healing powers. The legendary blue dragon Tintaglia is dying of wounds inflicted by hunters sent by the Duke of Chalced, who meanwhile preserves his dwindling life by consuming the blood of the dragon’s poet Selden Vestrit. If Tintaglia perishes, her ancestral memories will die with her. And the dragons in the ancient city of Kelsingra will lose the secret knowledge they need to survive. Their keepers immerse themselves in the dangerously addictive memory-stone records of the city in the hope of recovering the Elderling magic that once allowed humans and dragons to co-exist. In doing so they risk losing their own identities, even their lives. And danger threatens from beyond the city, too. For war is coming: war between dragonkind and those who would destroy them.

Top selling fantasy audiobooks, July 2012

Fantasy audiobooks are just getting better and better. The very best narrators are reading the very best books and the result is that the genre is now amongst he most popular on Audible.co.uk. A Game of Thrones is a popular as ever and although Stephen King’s The Stand is over thirty years old it has only just become available on the UK Audible store. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is definitely my next download. If, like me, you no longer have as much time to read as you once did, and especially if you have a daily commute, you should give audiobooks a try – sometimes the listening can be even more enjoyable than the reading (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Dark Tower series being just two examples).

Below is a list of the ten most downloaded fantasy audiobooks during July 2012:

  1. A Game of Thrones (Part One): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
    This first volume in the hugely popular and highly acclaimed epic fantasy series A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE is unabridged and split into two parts. Now a major Sky Atlantic TV series from HBO, starring Sean Bean. Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plot, lusts and intrigues; to the vast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men… all will play the Game of Thrones. Winter is coming…
  2. The Stand
    UNABRIDGED
    By Stephen King, narrated by Grover Gardner
    First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms. For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are listening to The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.
  3. Some Kind of Fairy Tale
    UNABRIDGED
    By Graham Joyce, narrated by John Lee
    Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a very English story. A story of woods and clearings, a story of folk tales and family histories. It is as if Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris had written a fairy tale together. It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phone call from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery. He arrives at his parents’ house and discovers that they have a visitor. His sister, Tara. Not so unusual you might think, this is Christmas after all, a time when families get together. But 20 years ago, Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back – and as the years went by with no word from her, the family, unspoken, assumed that she was dead. Now she’s back, tired, dirty, dishevelled, but happy and full of stories about 20 years spent travelling the world, an epic odyssey taken on a whim. But her stories don’t quite hang together, and once she has cleaned herself up and got some sleep, it becomes apparent that the intervening years have been very kind to Tara. She really does look no different from the young women who walked out the door 20 years ago. Peter’s parents are just delighted to have their little girl back, but Peter and his best friend, Richie, Tara’s one-time boyfriend, are not so sure. Tara seems happy enough, but there is something about her… a haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it’s as if she’s off with the fairies. And as the months go by, Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family…
  4. A Game of Thrones (Part Two): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire
    UNABRIDGED
    By George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
  5. The Name of the Wind (Part One)
    UNABRIDGED
    By Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Rupert Degas
    ‘I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me’ So begins the tale of Kvothe – now an unassuming innkeepter – from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In part one you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin.
  6. The Long Earth
    UNABRIDGED
    By Terry Pratchett , Stephen Baxter, narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens
    The Western Front, 1916. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where have the mud, blood, and blasted landscape of No Man’s Land gone? Madison, Wisconsin, 2015. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive – some said mad, others dangerous – scientist when she finds a curious gadget: a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world forever. And that’s an understatement if ever there was one…
  7. The Hobbit, Part 1
    UNABRIDGED | view abridged
    By J. R. R. Tolkien, narrated by Rob Inglis
    Smaug certainly looked fast asleep, when Bilbo peeped once more from the entrance. He was just about to step out onto the floor when he caught a sudden thin ray of red from under the drooping lid of Smaug’s left eye. He was only pretending to be sleep! He was watching the tunnel entrance! Whisked from his comfortable hobbit-hole by Gandalf the wizard and a band of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.
  8. Whispers Under Ground: Rivers of London, Book 3
    UNABRIDGED
    By Ben Aaronovitch, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
    Peter Grant is learning magic fast. And it’s just as well – he’s already had run ins with the deadly supernatural children of the Thames and a terrifying killer in Soho. Progression in the police force is less easy, especially when you work in a department of two. A department that doesn’t even officially exist. A department that if you did describe it to most people would get you laughed at. And then there’s his love life. The last person he fell for ended up seriously dead. It wasn’t his fault, but still. Now something horrible is happening in the labyrinth of tunnels that make up the tube system that honeycombs the ancient foundations of London. And delays on the Northern line is the very least of it. Time to call in the Met’s Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, aka ‘The Folly’. Time to call in PC Peter Grant, Britains Last Wizard.
  9. Shadow of Night
    UNABRIDGED
    By Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda
    It began with A Discovery of Witches. Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened. Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of the Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.
  10. The Wise Man’s Fear (Part Two)
    UNABRIDGED
    By Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Rupert Degas

What are UK and US fantasy fans listening to?

Audible.co.uk and Audible.com are arguably the biggest and best providers of quality audio-books in the UK and the US. Both are great at showing what is popular in genre fiction so I though it would be interesting to see what fantasy fans in both countries are currently listening to most.

The UK Top 10

  1. A Clash of Kings (Part 1): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  2. A Game of Thrones (Part 1): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  3. The Once and Future King by TH White;
  4. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch;
  5. The Ambassador’s Mission: Book 1 of the Traitor Spy Trilogy;
  6. A Game of Thrones (Part 2): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  7. Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch;
  8. A Storm of Swords (Part 1) – Steel and Snow: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  9. A Storm of Swords (Part 2) – Blood and Gold: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  10. A Clash of Kings (Part 2): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.

The US Top 10

  1. Reamde by Neal Stephenson;
  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern;
  3. A Game of Thrones (Part 1): Book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  4. A Clash of Kings (Part 2): Book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  5. A Storm of Swords: Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  6. A Dance with Dragons: Book 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  7. A Feast for Crows: Book 4 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin;
  8. Spider’s Revenge: Book 5 of Elemental Assassin by Jennifer Elstep;
  9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline;
  10. Caleb: Book 1 of Shadow Wranglers.

So what are UK and US fantasy fans listening to? Well, George RR Martin books really. His books were popular before the HBO series but now… I would love to know what the impact has been on A Song of Ice and Fire book and audio-book sales – I don’t think anything like this has been seen since the release of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Incredible.

It’s great to see last month’s Book of the Month, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, on there and also the excellent Ben Aaronvitch with Rivers of London and Moons o